In looking back to The Syncopated Times of December 2016, it unfavorably impressed a few readers when I assumed and seemed (to them) to luxuriate in the role of Canary in the Coal Mine. My pronouncements, though not unrelated to jazz, were dire; in my assertion that we would possibly have some trouble getting along with each other I appeared to take on the colors of the opposition. One subscriber (already nine-months in arrears) declined to renew based on my supposed political leanings.
A canary can’t help being a canary, and he is absolutely the last bird in the world that wants subterranean employment. He is pressed into service for his vocal attributes and his likelihood of being the first to detect when all is not well in the realm of anthracite. We may listen for his cough or not; that’s our lookout. But there are days when he wishes he were a grackle.
I will pause here to say, on this twenty-first day of August, “Is it stuffy in here, or is it me?” If you can stand this closeness, fine. But, seriously, do you mind if I open a window? Also: do you mind if I turn off the radio, the television, and the computer? And let’s throw all these papers and magazines into the recycling bin (except The Syncopated Times, of course), and put on some music. There. Isn’t that better?
Since November, I have been drifting from bubble to bubble. There’s the bubble of sleeping unconscionably late, even into the afternoon, and the bubble of music and conviviality. Those bubbles are full of life-sustaining (and sanity-saving) oxygen; it’s the time spent traveling between those bubbles during which I can’t breathe. I sense that everything outside those bubbles is mere theater, and perhaps long has been: soap opera, farce, melodrama, Theater of the Absurd, Theater of Cruelty, etc. I don’t much care for theater. I prefer concerts.
The bubble of music is not mere denial. When the narrative of current events has been commandeered by opposing sides, neither of which one may fully embrace, following the discourse is headache-making. It’s like watching a tennis match played with hand grenades. (I may momentarily agree with what you say but I’ll defend to the death my right not to take on your entire agenda.)
Do you know who doesn’t give me a headache? Beethoven and Jelly Roll Morton. Red Nichols and Mstislav Rostropovich. They replenish my soul. The don’t call me names or browbeat me. They don’t belittle or threaten me. (Beethoven, to be sure, cast some shade on a certain Herr Ignaz Schuppanzigh, but that seems to have been friendly raillery.)
It is hard not to feel remiss in my duties as a human being and a citizen of this republic by not taking a part in the script where people are blatantly wound up to be angry at each other. I see my friends and relatives marching and protesting, and I feel like a slacker. I admit that I love the comfort of my bubble more than I love to fight for (possibly) lost causes. I haven’t the heart to chant and march. I don’t feel happy in a group. I feel happiest listening to a group, particularly if they have a solid rhythm section.
Like David Copperfield, I don’t know of I am destined to be the hero of my own life. What I do know is that I need a cello or a cornet playing for me at regular intervals. A stride chorus or an intermezzo via Steinway doesn’t hurt a bit. A swing band or a symphony is just the ticket. Those bring me to myself again, and quiet the static outside.
Music is not the avoidance of life, it is the essence of life. Heroic or not, I’ll stand by that statement.